Port Gamble Forest Heritage Park framework discussed

Mountain bike ride park, STO trail, recreation and education campus included

The framework of Kitsap County’s nearly 3,500-acre Port Gamble Forest Heritage Park was discussed at the county commissioners meeting July 11.

The plan includes efforts such as the mountain bike riding park, Sound to Olympics Trail, Stottlemeyer trailhead, and the possibility of a 33-acre recreation and education campus, per county documents.

Other elements include updates to the trails system to create more loops while decommissioning ones that impact the environment or provide little meaningful access.

County parks director Alex Wisniewski said there are over 60 miles of trails in the park but they weren’t developed holistically for recreational purposes. Proposed changes will result in less mileage but a more functional system.

The framework also details conservation priorities for a majority of the park with an emphasis on timber acquisition, restoration and passive recreation. The park is four times the size of North Kitsap Heritage Park near Kingston and is one of the largest county parks in the nation.

“While its history is rich in timber harvesting, our framework proposes a future that is a balance of natural resources, restoration and recreation opportunities,” Wisniewski said. “93 percent of the park is targeted in the framework to remain undeveloped. The remaining seven percent of the park is more active use areas.”

In 2017, the county bought more than 1,500 acres of Port Gamble Forest from Pope Resources to add to the park with the stipulation that Pope, now Rayonier, would be able to continue harvesting trees for the following 25 years.

The acquisition was made possible by donations from over 1,200 community members, along with many local partners and foundations that came together to raise $3.5 million. Matching grants were provided by the county ($200,000) and the state ($500,000) for a total of $4 million.

When Pope Resources owned the property, it subdivided the land into 20-acre residential lots, but the community pushed back on the idea. After a decade of raising funds, the county bought it. The groups consisted of conservation, local tribes, park stewards, bikers, bird watchers, hikers and horseback riders.

Conservation priorities for the park include conserving forest stands that: are on trajectory to develop into healthy, diverse and resilient forest ecosystems with little additional input; are in healthy condition; and that contain sensitive areas, per county documents.

Restoration priorities consist of: promote development of healthier and more resilient forests through selective forest thinning; control invasive vegetation; and plant native vegetation (trees) to develop more species and forest structure diversity.

Total capital costs for the park are just under $26 million and total indirect costs are about $11.5 million. Annual operations and maintenance costs will be needed once the project is completed. Funding strategies include taxes or special districts; donations/grants/partnerships with nonprofits; general park user fees; and facility user fees/concession arrangements at the park.

Next steps include revisions to the draft plan by Aug. 3 and recommendations to the county parks advisory board Aug. 17. The final framework will be brought back to the county commissioners near the end of August.

For details, go to kitsapgov.com/parks/Pages/PortGambleHeritagePark.aspx.